Federal Communications Commission

Archive for January 2010

Privacy, Personal Data, and the Plan

January 26th, 2010 by Andrew Nesi - Special Assistant

In addition to his Wired for Social Justice speech, Blair also delivered a speech last Friday on privacy issues in the National Broadband Plan to EPIC (the Electronic Privacy Information Center).  In the speech, Blair discussed the dynamics of private data in the applications market, as well as the pending public notice on privacy.  Full text of the speech is below.

Thank you.

I particularly want to thank Mark, whose work I have followed for years and who has been both visionary and relentless in pushing on an issue which has always been important and, as I know you all know, will only be more so in the future.

I want to start with what my team was asked to do.  As many of you know, in the Recovery Act, Congress set aside more than 7 billion dollars for NTIA to establish a grant program designed to provide a short-term stimulus to fund broadband infrastructure build-out.

In addition to that program, Congress asked the FCC to develop a Plan for the long-term development of broadband in America. It asked us to evaluate those grants, and analyze the most efficient and effective mechanisms to get broadband infrastructure to all Americans. 

But Congress asked us to look beyond networks, too. 

It asked how we could achieve greater affordability, and increase adoption of broadband by Americans everywhere. 

It asked how broadband could advance a number of national purposes: energy, health care, public safety and consumer welfare, among others.  And it asked how to ensure maximum utilization of broadband, and how to realize its transformative potential.

Many still focus only on the first question—how can we get the fastest networks to the most number of people?

(Continue reading here...)

Roundtable on Broadband and New Media Strategies for Minority Radio

January 26th, 2010 by Thomas Reed - Director, Office of Communications Business Opportunities.

Minorities comprised one-third of the overall U.S. population in 2009.  Yet they control only 815 radio stations out of a total of 11,249 operating in the US – just 7.24%.  Today, small, local and minority-owned radio stations are struggling to stay afloat in the current economic crisis and in a marketplace where the Internet is getting a larger and larger bite of the advertising apple.  Bankruptcies in the radio industry are at record numbers; and while no group, minority or otherwise, is immune to the economic downturn, minority radio has been hit particularly hard.  As a result, we will likely see a continued decline in the percentage of minority ownership in radio.  Despite these troubling circumstances, minority radio continues to inform and entertain its listeners and provide the type of viewpoint diversity that is essential to a robust marketplace of ideas and voices on the airwaves.        

On Tuesday, the FCC’s Office of Communications and Business Opportunities held an interactive round-table discussion entitled “Broadband and New Media Strategies for Minority Radio.”  The workshop explored digital and new media applications that present the most promising opportunities for radio.  We looked at innovative ideas that could augment radio service areas, increase the size of listening audiences, and create multiple streams of income for small/local/minority radio.  We also examined the role minority-owned radio continues to play in supplying news content, politics, and entertainment to communities around the country that still lack broadband access.  We asked a diverse group of experts to share their thoughts on these important topics and had a dynamic conversation.  Video of the roundtable will be available soon on our web site.

Below is a list of our roundtable participants: 

Mario Armstrong, Radio Host, XM/Sirius radio,, WYPR & WEAA

Eric Broyles, Founder and CEO, Megree, Inc.

Frank Flores, Chief Revenue Officer of the radio segment and General Manager, Spanish Broadcasting Systems

Anita Stephens Graham
, Partner, Opportunity Capital Partners

Zemira Jones, President /CEO of All American Management Group, Inc.

James L. Winston, Executive Director, National Association of Black-Owned Broadcasters (NABOB)

Candida Mobley-Wright, President, Voices, Inc. 

Frank Montero, Co- Managing Partner with the law Fletcher, Heald & Hildreth

Cleveland Spears, Producer/Radio Host/General Manager, iM4radio Broadcasting Network

Loris Ann Taylor
, Executive Director, Native Public Media

Carolyn Fleming-Williams, Senior Deputy Director, Office of Communications Business Opportunities, FCC (moderator)

Rick Wade, Acting Chief of Staff, Department of Commerce (co-moderator)

Wired for Social Justice

January 25th, 2010 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

This past Friday, Blair Levin, Executive Director, Omnibus Broadband Initiative, delivered a speech entitled 'Wired for Social Justice.'  Blair spoke at the Minority Media and Telecommunications Council's Broadband and Social Justice Summit this past Friday. 


When President Eisenhower was desegregating schools and the Armed Forces, he said: “there must be no second class citizens in this country.”

No one in this room would argue. But as society changes, the attributes of citizenship can change as well.

And so in every age the question must be asked anew: “Are our policies contributing to a form of second class citizenship?”

This is a question we have spent a great deal of time—difficult time—working on as we try to develop a national broadband plan.

And that is what I want to talk about today.

I want to have a frank conversation about how we can ensure that in a society in which citizens increasingly interact, transact, communicate, collaborate, contribute and work online, digital citizenship is denied to no one.

Over the last thirty years, we have seen increases in income inequality, residential segregation and social isolation, and the concentration of disadvantage.

The number of neighborhoods today with a dangerous poverty rate—poverty above 30%-- is higher than it was in 2000.

In areas with a dense concentration of poverty, jobs disappear. Opportunity disappears.  The American tradition of justice, of achieving the American dream, emphasizes equality of opportunity – of having access to equal sets of resources that can enable us, our families, our children to succeed.

Let me be clear: access to high-speed Internet, even when paired with the digital skills needed to use it, is not a guarantee of such opportunity – it also requires values such as hard work and diligence that neither technology nor government can provide.

But broadband can help people get access to better jobs, better education, better health care information and improved government services.

And those services should be accessible anytime, anywhere, not requiring a day spent traveling to and waiting in line at government welfare offices in the midst of a workday.

This is no theoretical exercise. Connecting those previously excluded can bring real results.

(Continue reading here...)



Clean-tech Investor Summit

January 21st, 2010 by Nick Sinai - Energy and Environment Director

As we draw closer to the March 17th date for release of the plan, we’re getting more and more excited about our effort and how the plan is beginning to take shape.  I gave a glimpse of what we are thinking today with respect to energy and the environment at the Clean-Tech Investor Summit in Palm Springs  Below are my remarks; comments welcome!


Good Morning.  I’d like to give a little background about why I’m here.  Congress recognized that this country was long overdue for a national broadband strategy, and in the Recovery Act, Congress identified three national broadband objectives, and asked the FCC for a plan to achieve these objectives. First, they asked how broadband could be made available to all Americans.  Second, they asked how broadband could be made more affordable, and how adoption could be increased. About 93 million Americans are not connected to broadband today.  Third, Congress asked how broadband and advanced communications could be used to achieve other national priorities such as health care, education, energy efficiency and energy independence. There is also explicit mandate in the Recovery Act about a national broadband plan encouraging private sector innovation and investment.

Around 50 people joined the FCC to work on this plan, from industry, academia, government, the investor community—and hundreds more within the FCC have been active in preparing the plan. This is a plan that is designed for the unique attributes of the American broadband ecosystem. It is a data-driven plan, with input from across all America.  We’ve held 44 public workshops, and field hearings, issued 31 public notices, and received tens of thousands of pages of comments.

Having invested in IT, telecom, and clean-tech companies for a number of years, I jumped at the opportunity to be a part of this historic process, and have been honored to lead a small team looking at how broadband can help with our national energy independence and energy efficiency goals.  As part of the process, we’ve been speaking with telecom carriers, electric utilities, technology vendors, federal and state energy officials, entrepreneurs, and yes, even VCs too. 

The national broadband plan will be delivered to Congress and the American people by March 17th.  It will contain a series of specific recommendations to the FCC, to the Administration, to Congress, and to the States. I want to take this opportunity to discuss with you where we are in reaching some of our important findings and conclusions.

First and foremost, broadband and advanced communications will play an important role in achieving our national goals of energy independence and efficiency, serving as a foundation of smarter electric grids, buildings, homes, and vehicles that collectively can prevent up to a gigaton of carbon emissions by 2020.  Broadband alone cannot solve the country’s energy and environmental challenges.  But it will be an important part of the solution, as a platform for new applications and new business models.

I want to focus today on where broadband and advanced communications can make the greatest impact on energy and the environment: 1) modernizing the electric grid and 2) unlocking energy data to promote innovation in the smart home and smart building.

Modernizing the grid is critical for our economic prosperity, our national security, and our commitment to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions.  The smart grid, as it’s often called, is the great enabler that will allow us to accommodate renewable power, energy storage, and distributed generation at mass scale.  A smarter grid will be necessary if we want to lead the shift towards light-duty vehicle electrification, an important step in reducing our dependency on foreign oil.  A smarter grid will speed recovery from national disasters and terrorist attacks, self-healing by re-routing power around faults, rather than allowing them to cascade and bring the grid down.

The record from the public proceedings is clear:  the smart grid needs reliable, secure, and pervasive communications, including wireless broadband.  Pervasive connectivity to sensors, substations, and switches are critical to transforming the grid into a two-way network of both electricity and information. 

The first section of our plan addresses this need, and will make specific recommendations for bringing mission critical broadband connectivity to make the grid smarter. Broadband networks that could accomplish this task include commercial networks, private utility networks, and shared networks with public safety agencies.  There is no single solution that will work for all regions, applications and types of utilities—our plan will recognize this and pursue multiple solutions.  First and foremost, we will look at how to remove impediments and disincentives to using commercial networks. We will also look at how the FCC can best work with wireless telecommunications providers to improve the ability of commercial networks to provide service during emergencies, not only to attract mission-critical smart grid traffic, but also consumers who rely on wireless networks.  Finally, we are exploring ways to encourage private networks built by utilities to operate in the same band, in order to drive down costs, and to drive open, non-proprietary standards.  There is a range of ways we can do this, but one path, for example, involves working with NTIA to look at federal spectrum bands.    

The second section of the plan will address how broadband, when combined with access to energy information, can unleash the energy innovation economy in homes and buildings.  Pervasive access to the Internet brings innovative competitors, technologies, and business models to the smart home and smart building, letting large cable companies and small web start-ups compete alongside the utilities for demand response, home automation, and energy management services.  Broadband is what lets a company like EnerNOC offer demand response services—essentially creating a virtual power plant from sophisticated software and reliable broadband.

Our review of the record suggests that to facilitate this innovation will require both interoperability standards and policies that provide customers robust access to their own digital energy information.

Smart Grid standards, as many of you know, is the focus of an effort at NIST.  Of particular interest for many of you, NIST is coordinating the development of data formats for how energy information can be communicated into a home, either via a smart meter or over the Internet.  These open standards are necessary to build a secure and interoperable Smart Grid, and they are critical to help ensure the smart home is plug’n’ play, increasing the ease of use and energy savings for all Americans.

But the record suggests interoperable standards are not sufficient, if we want to unlock the innovation potential of the smart home and smart building.  It appears that we also need policies that result in utilities providing their customers and their customers’ authorized third parties access to their own digital energy information, in open machine readable formats.  Some states have been out in front here – with the California Public Utility Commission recently announcing a decision to mandate its large investor owned utilities to provide digital energy information to consumers, including real-time energy information by 2011. Pennsylvania is another state that is aggressively pursuing these policies.  But other states are moving slowly.  We are reviewing how best to urge them to move fast with providing real-time information from smart meters, as well as past bill information over the Internet. For example, the federal government could help speed this effort by rewarding states and utilities with strong data access policies in its grants and loan programs. If such efforts don’t work, there are other options such as national energy data accessibility legislation.  Our energy and environment challenges are great and speed in providing such data is an urgent matter.

I think we can all agree real-time information and communication is the way people and systems work today.  You can check your frequent flyer miles, get real-time traffic alerts, or check your bank balances, all from your iPhone.  I don’t need to preach to this audience about the power of real-time information – if you listen carefully, you can hear the quiet peck of blackberries in the back row.   And maybe the front row as well. . Real-time feedback is what lets people make better energy decisions. Perhaps more importantly, real-time feedback in standard digital formats will allow companies to innovate new products and services that will help customers “set it and forget it,” saving energy and money on electric bills with a minimum of fuss.

The record tells us that most people get paper bills for energy, or at best, electronic PDFs.  We have 8 million smart meters today, going to 80 million by the end of the decade, according to FERC.  But most of the smart meters today, and even many of the ones planned for the coming years, will not provide real-time data to consumers, much less authorized third parties.  This raises the obvious question: It’s your energy use, and your dollars going to pay for the infrastructure – why can’t you have your own digital energy information?  And if you want to release your energy consumption information to someone who wants to sell you ads, or wants to analyze your energy usage and suggest energy efficiency investments, why should the utility hold you back?  What about generation mix information—maybe a company would like to measure its carbon footprint in real-time? Or consumers might want to charge their vehicles with green power? What about all the demand side applications we can’t think of right now?

It’s not the government’s role, any more than the utility company, to pick the winners and losers in thermostats, appliances, energy displays, and building technologies.  As we think about the plan, we believe we must aspire for policies that facilitate the ferocious competition that drives innovation.  Companies, technologies, and business models will compete for your investment capital and compete to deliver value for customers.  Many companies will fail, yes, even those in your top-quartile portfolios.  The ones that succeed will build new industries, create new jobs, and also help our country achieve its important national energy goals.

Thank you for the opportunity to speak to you today, and I look forwarding to working with you.

Live Blogging the January Open Commission Meeting

January 20th, 2010 by George Krebs

10:25AM EDT
This month's Open Commission Meeting will be under way in just a few minutes. For some background on the agenda, click here. Today's meeting will not be as lengthy as some of the others we've had (there are no worries it will match the four hour marathon we witnessed in September to hear the midterm review) but will cover a fair amount of ground. In addition to an update on the Broadband plan, the Commission will vote on a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking regarding prerecorded telemarketing calls and will review a program concerning the video distribution market. Given that this blog is focused on the National Broadband Plan, our coverage here will emphaize the brief Broadband Plan update the team will provide.

10:42AM EDT
Appropriately, the current situation arising out of the devastating earthquake in Haiti is added to the agenda.  The Chairman opens with a few words to describe the Commission's efforts to support the relief. The FCC has been supporting communications services in Haiti which benefits victims and supports emergency operations. He provides a number of stunning anecdotes involving the use of mobile devices where victims trapped in the rubble were able to text their location to rescue teams or used an iPhone app to fashion a  makeshift tourniquet. The Chairman also notes that in the U.S. text message programs have been used to raise unprecedented amounts of money to aid the important work there (the FCC has lifted existing restrictions for fundraising to facilitate the flood of donations). FCC staff assure the Commissioners that we are working with our communications regulations counterpart in Haiti and supporting USAID. An update on the communications infrastructure is given. As our Public Safety and Homeland Security Bureau chief Retired Navy Rear Admiral said, "We'll continue to coordinate our activities with the Haitian authorities and will continue to help them in whatever way possible."

11:11AM EDT
Our first item concerns prerecorded telemarketing calls or "robo calls." The Commission will vote on what is called a "notice of proposed rulemaking" -- a necessary step to alert the public to the proposal prior to the actual vote -- requiring that telemarketers receive the express written consent of consumers in order to make these calls. The rule would also allow consumers to easily opt out of receiving them. Joel Gurin, the newly announced Chief of the Consumer and Governmental Affairs Bureau, says that this rule will ensure that "the consumer, not the telemarketer, can decide which phone calls they receive." The Commissioners and the Chairman now get a chance to share their sentiments on the presented initiative. In his statement in support of the measure Commissioner Copps says, "This is a good day for consumers and a good day for the Commission." Commissioner McDowell also supports the proposed rules noting that "these calls seem to always come at the most inconvenient times." In her statement of support Commissioner Clyburn commends "increased control" for the consumer. Commissioner Baker offers her kudos saying, "It's good to harmonize rules where we can," noting that this proposal will harmonize rules with the Federal Trade Commission. The Chairman, speaking last, echoed the sentiment of the Commissioners and said that he's "looking forward to moving forward on this proceeding quickly." With all four Commissioners and the Chairman in favor and none opposed, the notice of proposed rulemaking is adopted.

12:12PM EDT
The last item on the agenda this morning is our much anticipated update on the Broadband Plan. Giving the update in the team's stead is Broadband Plan Chief Counsel and Senior Advisor Phoebe Yang. Whereas there is usually a cadre of Broadband team members present she explains her individual visit by saying that the team is hard at work writing the plan upstairs. To give the Commission an idea of the status of the plan, Ms. Yang gives a topical overview. Team members are busy sorting through and reviewing comments made on the public record. She ticks off a number of mind boggling statistics on what, exactly, is in the public record. Thousands of comments, ex partes, and other forms of public input comprising tens of thousands of pages form the record now being reviewed. The team has also been briefing the Commission's legal advisors. Most importantly the authors are working to make sure the final product is an actionable plan. "The work does not end on March 17," Yang says,  "we're well aware of that."

Ms. Yang gives a brief outline of what the plan will look like. There will be sections relating to digital inclusion, the Universal Service Fund and adoption. Other auxilary issues will also be included, such as connectivity in the tribal communities.  The report will promote research and development, consumer protection and transparency. It will address how to leverage government and personal data for the benefit of the public. Sections of the report will also be dedicated to providing guidance for how government will undertake implementing the plan. "And with your permission," she says after giving her detailed overview, "I'll return to work."

12:21PM EDT
We're now hearing a wrap up by the Chairman and Commissioners. The Chairman announces that the Commission has exceeded our goals for the Combined Federal Campaign and surpassed our stretch goal by $50,000. For those unfamiliar with CFC, the Combined Federal Campaign is the federal government's annual workplace philanthropic campaign. This year's total is the largest the FCC has ever raised. Secretary Marlene Dortch announces that the next Open Meeting will take place on Thursday, February 11th. For materials from today's presenters and video of today's proceeding, visit our Open Meetings page.

Winners and Winners

January 19th, 2010 by Phil Bellaria - Director, Scenario Planning, Omnibus Broadband Initiative

Very early in the process of developing the National Broadband Plan, we recognized the impact that exploding growth in wireless broadband usage would have on spectrum policy. Though the Plan will make recommendations spanning many areas of spectrum policy - including getting spectrum "in the pipeline" to market and fostering more productive use in existing broadband bands - there's no getting around the need to reallocate some spectrum from current uses to broadband use.  We must get more spectrum out there for broadband if we want a world-leading broadband infrastructure.

The perception, reinforced by recent press articles and television commercials, is that any such reallocation effort creates “winners” and “losers”. So, the public discussion about spectrum policy has centered on reallocations and, more specifically, reallocation from TV broadcasters.  It’s just more interesting and tangible to talk about or report on something that could have winners and losers… human nature, I suppose.  I hesitate to perpetuate this over-emphasis on one aspect of spectrum policy, but given the attention it’s received, I do think it’s important to explain our current thinking.

The most attractive spectrum for wireless broadband is below 3.7 GHz; since broadcast TV bands occupy 294 MHz within that sweet-spot, they have naturally been one of the areas we are examining. For example, on average there are 20 full-power TV stations in the top 10 markets; they directly use only 120 MHz of the 294 MHz allocated to broadcast TV. Across all markets, they only directly use on average 54 MHz (9 channels) of the 294 MHz total.  Naturally, we asked the question – is there a more efficient way to deliver free over-the-air TV and reallocate spectrum for broadband use?

In trying to answer this question, we have followed 3 core principles:

  • Preserve free, over-the-air TV
  • Reallocate a portion of the broadcast TV bands to broadband use
  • Establish a market-based mechanism to effect that reallocation

Initially, we identified a set of scenarios that would meet those principles through various means.  We analyzed the impact of each scenario on consumers and spectrum reallocation, gathered feedback on the scenarios from broadcasters and other stakeholders, and absorbed thousands of pages of public filings, analyst reports, and other research material – all to refine and narrow options.  Sounds a lot like a typical strategic planning process, huh?

Where have we landed?  Of course, the process is not done yet, but our current preference is to establish a voluntary mechanism through which owners of broadcast TV stations could choose what they want to do with the spectrum they current license.  Some may choose to retain all of it; some may choose to share bandwidth with another station for continued high-definition, standard-definition, and/or mobile DTV broadcasts; some may relinquish their license to pursue alternative business models.   Station owners could receive a share of the auction proceeds from the spectrum they relinquish.  We would repack remaining stations in the most efficient manner, and reallocate the spectrum “freed” to flexible, broadband use.

I hate to disappoint, but such a mechanism wouldn’t create winners and losers, only winners and… more winners.  Broadcasters would win more options in a challenging business and investment climate for the industry; consumers would win more innovation in wireless broadband services and continued free, over-the-air television; auction winners would win capacity to meet customer needs (but pay for that capacity, of course).

Like any strategic planner would, we continue to explore other alternatives if the voluntary mechanism doesn’t receive Congressional authorization or result in sufficient spectrum reallocation – e.g., changes to the broadcast architecture to reduce spacing between channels, auctions of overlay licenses, mandatory channel sharing options. 

Those alternatives are fraught with complexity and tradeoffs.  We can get out of the “winners and losers” mindset if we actively support and pursue a voluntary, market-based mechanism to effect the reallocation of spectrum to meet the country’s future needs for wireless broadband.

Chairman Genachowski's Message to the National Town Hall

January 19th, 2010 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

Below are the welcoming video remarks by Chairman Julius Genachowski to today's National Town Hall.



[Cross-posted on the Open Internet Blog.]

Replies Requested: Last Call

January 14th, 2010 by Phoebe Yang - Senior Advisor to the Chairman on Broadband

As we are nearing the homestretch on developing the National Broadband Plan, we want to say how much we appreciate the unprecedented input folks have provided for the Plan.   As everyone knows, we have issued a lot of Public Notices -- 31 to be exact -- over the past five months asking for information about a lot of topics key to developing the Plan.  The input has been invaluable, and the process has been consistent with our pledge that data drive development of the Plan.

With our original Feb. 17 deadline to deliver a plan to Congress, we truncated the Commission’s normal process of following the initial comment period with a reply period for many of the Public Notices.  Of course, if time had permitted, we would have preferred giving interested parties the chance to send replies, which often provide a valuable public critique of ideas raised in initial comments.

Now that Congress has kindly granted us a 28-day extension of the plan deadline, to March 17, we are giving the public a final opportunity to reply to any of the comments they have read.  So we’re issuing another Public Notice, which is functioning as an overall last call for comments on the National Broadband Plan.  The deadline will be January 27.  But please send us your replies as soon as possible, or respond on the blog.  Yes, we got an extension, but March 17 is just around the corner – and it’s not a leap year.  Can you tell we're counting down the days?

In addition, we’re using the time to solicit public comment on key privacy issues recently raised by the Center for Democracy and Technology.  Yes, another Public Notice. The initial deadline is Jan. 22, and replies up until the last call: Jan. 27.  Thanks, everyone.

Chairman Genachowski - Live at GigaOM

January 6th, 2010 by Gray Brooks - FCC New Media

Chairman Julius Genachowski is discussing Broadband Policy at GigaOM in San Francisco.  Watch the event live:

The Live Stream has ended.  You can view the archived video here

[Cross-posted at]


Capture The Phone Numbers Using Your Camera Phone

If you have a camera and a 2D matrix code reader on your mobile phone, you can capture the FCC Phone numbers right to your phone by following these three easy steps:
Step 1: Take a photograph of one of the codes below using the camera on your mobile phone.
Step 2: Use your phone's Datamatrix or QR Code reader to decode the information on the photograph. Please note, these code readers are device specific and are available to download on the internet.
Step 3: Store the decoded address information to your phone's address book and use it with your Maps or GPS application.

Datamatrix and QR FCC Phones